Congress to examine truckers’ health

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A congressional report that more than a half-million commercial drivers are eligible for full disability benefits has prompted a House Transportation Committee hearing on truckers’ health and safety, to be held Thursday, July 24. One of the proposals to be considered by the committee, led by U.S. Rep. James Oberstar, D-Minn., is making it easier for employers to check the results of commercial drivers’ drug tests.

Released Monday, July 21, on the U.S. Government Accountability Office website, the study reports that nearly 563,000 commercial drivers are eligible for full disability benefits from the federal government. It also documents a number of accidents caused by commercial drivers in need of better health care. More than 1,000 of those drivers eligible for full benefits were diagnosed with vision, hearing or seizure disorders, according to GAO.

The yearlong study includes data from the Social Security Administration, the Office of Personnel Management and the Departments of Energy, Veterans Affairs and Labor. The data used in the study represent more than 4 percent of all CDLs in the DOT database and were gleaned from 12 states: California, Florida, Illinois, Kentucky, Maryland, Michigan, Minnesota, Montana, Tennessee, Texas, Virginia and Wisconsin.

The study includes 15 case studies of truck and bus drivers who had serious medical conditions at the time of their crashes. One was a Minnesota truck driver who had received Social Security disability benefits for more than 10 years for several medical conditions, including complications from a leg amputation. The truck driver reportedly told GAO that he was required only to push the doctor across the room in a rolling chair to pass the Skills Performance Evaluation. The doctor reportedly then signed the medical certificate without indicating that an SPE must be obtained from DOT.

The report also notes that the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration has yet to enforce eight guidelines that the National Transportation Safety Board proposed in 2001 and urged action on again two years later. The oversight of medical fitness was on the NTSB’s 2003 “Most Wanted” list. Of the eight recommendations, one would set minimum standards for determining whether truckers are healthy enough to drive safely. Another would regulate the physicians doing health examinations for truckers more closely.

The report is available as a 30-page PDF download by clicking here.